Education Otherwise is retrenching. It has since 2007 been getting into the habit of spending more than it should and not generally on its core work of advising and supporting home educating parents. Individual members would of course offer help, but the central organisation became a little too involved in campaigning and politics. This is now changing and EO is in a sense returning to its roots; withdrawing from arguing with the government and devoting more time to supporting its members. Some see this is a good thing, others as a bad move. It has been argued that without a main organisation with which to deal, the Department for Education will feel able to divide and rule; passing any amendments to existing laws which they feel like and then relying upon the fact that there is no national body to coordinate a response. This at least has been the view expressed recently by Mike Fortune-Wood of Home Education UK. He originally belonged to Education Otherwise at one time, but decided that he could start a better organisation of his own and has spent the last few years sniping at and criticising EO. There was a rumour going the rounds recently that Home Ed Forums up in Scotland felt that the future in this field belonged to them and some members there were crowing about the fact that both Education Otherwise and Home Education UK were practically moribund and that they would themselves in the future be the ones representing the interests of home educators. They even offered to buy the Home Education UK brand name from Mike Fortune-Wood and take it over. He declined.
The extent to which national home education organisations have been helpful for home educating parents in the past few years is debateable. Some people swear that they would not have been able to cope without the support offered and I am quite prepared to believe that this is true. However, when reading the lists these days, some of us feel that they cause more mischief than they are worth. There is often an air of us and them, as though local authorities and civil servants at the Department for Education were by definition the enemy and always up to no good. This is in sharp contrast to the cordial relations enjoyed by home educators with their local authorities in many areas. The suspicion is that rather than solving problems and reducing tensions between parents and local authority officers, the advice being given out on some forums and lists is actually exacerbating things.
My own view, and I have expressed this both here and in my book, is that the future lies in local arrangements between parents and their local authorities. Most local authorities are perfectly happy with the idea of home education as such; they are just a little uneasy about some individual families. It is their attempts to deal with these individual cases which often turn up on the Internet lists and are then brandished as examples of how local authorities are in the business of persecuting home educating parents. This then frightens other home educators and makes them less anxious to cooperate with the local authority themselves. The fact that having a cheerful and good natured relationship with the local authority is often regarded as little better than treason on some lists, also discourages people from talking about good relations with local authorities. The result is that the bad experiences are often all that people read about on the lists. This creates a skewed and unbalanced view of home education in Britain today.
One feels that it is time to acknowledge that most people rub along pretty well with their local authority and that the cases of fighting are very much the exception. It is time to drop the idea that home educators are locked in a life or death struggle for survival with both central government and local authorities and for parents to start trying to reach an amicable arrangement with the individual local government officers with whom they come into contact.